Interviewing my Character

A couple of years ago, in 2016 I  read some interesting posts on Helen Hollick’s blog Let us Talk of Many Things

She interviewed characters from other writer’s books  – see the full list here

What an interesting idea this was. You can learn a lot from questioning your characters – putting them in an unusual situation or asking them to explain themselves. I decided to have a go.

I sat Byrhtnoth down with a horn of mead to get him relaxed, but everything got out of hand, so I abandoned the interview until the next day. This explains some of the grumpy responses.

 

Q : Would you like to introduce yourself – who you are, what you do?

A : My name is Byrhtnoth. I am a warrior – at least that is what I was trained for. I did something very bad. I don’t know what I am now.

 

Q : Where and when are you? Are you a real historical person or did your author create you?

A : At the moment I am living in a small village in the English fens, near Ely. It is the year 946 or thereabouts. I am a real historical person – my author says they wrote a poem about my glorious death in battle that is still sung by the scops in your time.

 

Q : In a few brief sentences: what is the novel you feature in about?

A : It’s all about me. My mother died when I was young, I don’t really remember her. I was sent to the King’s court to train as a warrior – that would be King Athelstan, grandson of King Alfred who you call “The Great”. I grew up with the other boys. Some became my friends. Others I thought were friends, are not. I am sixteen now, a man. I have killed Viking raiders and rescued women – the usual things warriors do. And I am searching for a sword – it belonged to my father. I need to discover if he still lives

 

Q : How did your author meet up with you?

A : I was very crafty. She had no idea what she was doing, searching for a subject to write about. I dropped her a few subtle hints and before she knew it, she was hooked.

 

Q : Tell me about one or two of the other characters who feature with you – husband, wife, family? Who are some of the nice characters and who is the nastiest one?

A : As I mentioned above, I am an orphan. No wife, not even a girlfriend, although there is this girl I really fancy.
My best friend is Wulfstan, we meet right at the start of the book. I have to look after him, he is smaller than me and nasty things happen to him – he’s much brighter than me, but don’t tell him I said so!
Elfhere was another boy in our gang. Very friendly to start with, but he changes. He’s a bit posh – he has relatives, unlike the rest of us. He is good at fighting, but not as good as me. I’m the best. You’ll have to wait until the end of the book to find out what happens to him.

 

Q : What is your favourite scene in the book?

A : That has to be the scene when I discover a relative. It’s good to have friends, but suddenly to find family, after thinking you are alone in the world…

 

Q : What is your least favourite? Maybe a frightening or sad moment that your author wrote.

A : I was alone and injured; lost in a dark forest. Death seemed certain. I don’t remember much about it, but I’m sure there were monsters in the darkness.
My author decided my life was too easy – she really laid on the misery!

 

Q : What are you most proud of about your author?

A : She’s not bad for a woman. She does what I tell her to, even if she does think the ideas are hers. Sometimes she suspects I’m in charge, but I tell her how brilliant she is and she soon calms down.

 

Q : Has your author written  other books about you? If not, about other characters?
How do you feel about your author going off with someone else!

A : This is my author’s first book. She has started planning a second one about me, perhaps it will be a trilogy. I’m still young and apparently I have a long life before that glorious death. How many books has that Bernard Cornwall chap written about Uhtred? His character got onto television (whatever that is) as well. Uhtred is getting old – it’s time for a younger, better looking Anglo-Saxon warrior.
I sometimes catch my author thinking about someone else. A pirate called Jack (not that one!). He’s probably a Viking and we know what to do with those, don’t we?

 

Q : As a character if you could travel to a time and place different to your own fictional setting   where and when would you go?

A : It would be interesting to go back and find out more about those Romans who left so many ruins scattered around the land. They must have been giants.
I think though that I’d better jump ahead eight hundred years and get rid of that pirate chap – don’t want him distracting my author.

If we’ve finished now, can you pass the mead?

 

Look out for interviews with some of my other characters. Perhaps even Jack!

(Not if I have anything to do with it! – Byrhtnoth)

 

The Book now Standing…

I’m not saying that the book is at a standstill – it is waiting, billowing steam everywhere, eager to go, but, at the moment, waiting.

This is not a problem, it is a planned stop. As mentioned last week I was expecting Book 1 back from my editor. It was delayed for a few days so I managed 4,860 words (of book 2) this week. This included a scene I had been dreading writing from the start. I managed to write it, although I’m not sure I’ll ever let anyone read it. At least I got the words out! I have now reached a total 82,711, the end is in sight, downhill all the way. I just hope I don’t hit the buffers. But enough of these train metaphors – I can’t use them in my books, so it’s good to get them off my chest!

A train, going nowhere – yet.

I am now editing, not writing. It’s going OK so far. Most of the red ink is to do with my mistakes over the punctuation of dialogue – I promise I’ll get it right from now on. Then there is my unfortunate compulsion for the passive tense, all nicely sorted. It has been a bit of a shock to hear my characters speaking with someone else’s voice when extra text is needed, but that is something I must accept – most of the time.

There was one comment. It concerns a character that is introduced early in the book, and never again. Could there be more about her later?  I spent a lot of time thinking about this and came up with something – she enters and disappears again. Should she appear again? It this point I received another editorial communication. Could she be connected to another character?

My first thought was No. Then I got one of those flashes of inspiration. Perhaps she isn’t a separate character, perhaps she is a character that is already there! It kept me up half the night. It couldn’t be her, because of the age difference. If I change that, then something later isn’t right. Alter this and that becomes impossible. I don’t know if I can sort it out. If I do, it will mean some re-writing, but the book will be better.

It is a good job that I was not planning to rush into print (or the digital equivalent.) For a few moments I was tempted. I discovered that Conn Iggulden (one of the big beasts in Historical Fiction) publishes a new book next month – 4th May – not that you’re interested. The title is Dunstan: One Man Will Change the Fate of England. It is about Dunstan (later St Dunstan). Dunstan is a character in my book (minor but important). It starts in the year 937 – so does mine.

After screaming, rolling on the floor and tearing out my hair, my first thought was “Should I give up now?” Everyone will assume that I was copying him. What if I published first? Apart from the fact that no-one would notice, I’m not sure if I could manage that in a month. Anyway, why rush? I’m not ready yet.

My second thought was: If his book is a success, then it shows that there is a market of this period. Just as there is room for Bernard Cornwall and… everyone else who writes about King Alfred, or other personalities of the Anglo-Saxon period. I can live with it.

Just please, please, no-one write a book about Byrhtnoth – at least not until I’m famous and they can be accused of copying me!

 

Memories – coming and going.

As I suspected, it’s been a busy week. I managed 4,475 words. Since I only found time to write on three days, I don’t think I did too badly.

The first two days were fine, 1,026 and 1,014. Tuesday morning I had a dentists appointment and was unable eat any lunch. Still numb, I had to pick up an elderly relative for a hospital appointment, at a hospital an hour’s drive away. It was a minor outpatients procedure, so there was a lot of waiting around. I don’t mind that – plenty of time to read! On this occasion though the Elderly Relative suffers from memory problems. I couldn’t read because every five minutes I had to explain where we were and why we were there, where we had come from and where we would be returning to etc, etc, etc – for five hours, including the short break while ER had the operation. Tired and hungry, I was wiped out for the rest of the day.

It is terrible watching someone you know gradually disappear, but at the same time interesting to witness what goes and what remains. ER has been in a care home for over a year, but every day is new because they have no memory of the time they have been there. Sometimes ER gets agitated, usually in the afternoon. We thought it was due to tiredness, but no. It was straight after lunch and ER insisted they had to “look after the children”. Eventually we worked out that ER had, a long time ago, worked as a school “dinner lady” – I don’t suppose such a job exists any more –  someone who had to look after / entertain / read to the children after their lunch, until they were handed back to the teachers. Why had ER remembered this particular job, performed for a short time, over fifty years ago?

What has this got to do with writing? It started me thinking about point of view and the unreliable narrator. How would someone with memory problems view the action in a book?

To continue. When I did manage to do some reading, it was on my Kindle. It was a book I had purchased a while ago, perhaps it had been on special offer, or I liked the cover. When I decided to read it, I noticed that Kindle thought I had already read it – 100%. I didn’t remember reading it, perhaps I had accidentally clicked on the final page. The first few pages looked familiar – perhaps I had read them and then got interrupted. I scrolled forward to something I didn’t recognise and continued. As I read I knew that I had read it before, but at no time did I know what came next. Was it a bad book? No. It was the first of a series and I have downloaded the next book. Was I distracted by something else (my own book?) at the time. I don’t know, because I don’t remember.

Another example. I mentioned last week that I might discuss the second series of The Last Kingdom that has just started. I have read most of Bernard Cornwell’s books. The ones in this series I read as they came out. I watched this first episode. I didn’t recognise the story at all. It must be the film makers messing up the plot, I thought. It annoyed me, so I looked up the book – the TV is onto the third book “The Lords of the North“. So far the TV is sticking to the book. I “know” I have read this book, why have I forgotten it? Perhaps it is because Bernard Cornwell has written a lot of books. It was first published in 2008; a lot of books have passed under my bridge since then. Of course it might be that I hadn’t actually read that book.

Before I become too worried and join ER in the care home, another example of memory.

A new character has entered my book. I have been thinking about her since I started (yes, I know I don’t plan, but…) and have been dropping hints about her – she is slightly mysterious and I don’t even have a name for her yet. I was thinking about her and her part in the plot, while watching TV – as you do – and two ideas collided. I realised that anyone reading my book would think I had based her on the character in a fairy story. I hadn’t intended to. Had I plucked from some genetic memory? These tales are very old? Or had I just read, or had read to me, too many fairy stories when I was young?

Writing is strange. Where do our ideas come from?

Don’t forget to come back next week to find out how my writing is going.

The Last Kingdom, the last episode

WARNING: Discusses aspects of the plot, so don’t continue if you haven’t seen the final episode.

Last night I sat down and watched the final episode of The Last Kingdom.

Has my opinion changed from when I wrote about the television series a few weeks ago?

First I should say that I enjoyed the series. I would have probably enjoyed it more if I hadn’t already read the books, but most of the time I sat back and enjoyed the action. The acting was good and there was enough humour to counteract the violence. Money had been spent, so that the final battle of Ethandun was suitably spectacular.

Pale Horseman cover

The later half of the series was based on the second book by Bernard Cornwell, The Pale Horseman. It is some time since I read it – I see it was published in 2005 – so ten years ago. I had to dash off to the library to borrow a copy. It was interesting reading the book and watching the programme in tandem. I have leant a lot about merging characters and the problems that might cause.

A good example was the fight between Uhtred and Leofric. I was confused about it, why had Leofric turned against Uhtred? It just didn’t ring true. A good cliff hanger and you think – Oh they’ve got a plan to get out of it next week. No, they fought, were interrupted by the Danish attack and rode off best of friends.

When I read the book, I understood what had been done. Uhtred had to fight Steapa Snotor, henchman of Odda the Younger. This wonderfully named warrior (no, Snotor isn’t what you think, it means “the wise” – because the character is very stupid!) has been cut from the TV version of the story altogether. Therefore:

On the journey to meet Odda the Younger they stop at Uhtred’s Hall – not Steapa’s village which has been burnt and makes him angry.

When they do meet Odda the Younger, it made sense in the book that Odda would tell Steapa to continue the fight, to kill Uhtred, but he turns and kills his former master. In the filmed version it is obvious that Leofric wouldn’t kill his friend, so Odda the Elder has to kill his own son.

Another change  is that for this journey in the book, Alfred stays behind, as does Iseult. Uhtred is told she will be killed if he doesn’t return, which puts Uhtred under pressure.

So, why is Alfred creeping around in the background in disguise? Because they have merged this scene with another – a trip to the Danish camp at Chippenham. In the book Alfred pretends to be a harpist to spy on the Danes and Uhtred has to rescue him, along with Aethelwold and a raped nun (Hild – another two characters merged into one.) This, in its turn, is based on the original story of Alfred singing for Guthrum and the Danes.

The more I think about it, the more I realise the amount of effort that has been put in to tell the same story (much of the dialogue is identical) while slimming down the cast and venues. It is something to think about in my own book. Should I consider merging several characters into one? Or shall I leave that to the script writers when they film it? Perhaps the market for Anglo-Saxon television series has now closed?

Returning to the final episode. Leofric is now dead. What will happen to Steapa? This character appears in the later books.

Over the final scene, where they ride off into the sunset (a bit of a cliché, but it’s what you expect) we were told that the series will continue. I look forward to it.

But, who was riding into the future?

Uhtred, obviously.
I think I have got used to him, now he has got a bit rougher round the edges. In fact, while reading The Pale Horseman my vision of him swung between Sean Bean and Alexander Dreymon.

Hild.
Not so obvious from the TV version (or the book) but she is a main character later on. And Uhtred needs a girl to hump!

Who was the third?
It looked like the boy who appeared in the final episode.
According to the cast list he is called Halig – not a name that appears in the books (as far as I know). I think I heard it as Pyrlig and thought “Father Pyrlig has changed a lot!”.Warriors of the Storm cover

If you want to find out about Father Pyrlig who, according to the book, was at the battle (I suspect Beocca must have been merged with that character) why not read the book(s)?

 

There are now nine in the series. In the most recent, Warriors of the Storm, published only a few months ago. Uhtred is a grandfather (perhaps there’s hope for Sean Bean yet.) and Brida reappears. I’ll say no more.

 

Except… Please, in the next series, give them the right shields and sort out the clothes.

The Last Kingdom, Book v Television

I have now watched the first four episodes of the BBC2 series of The Last Kingdom. Halfway through the series and it’s about time to voice my opinion. How does it compare with the books by Bernard Cornwell?

I started reading the Sharpe novels long before they were televised. I knew what Richard Sharpe looked like – he was tall and dark.
Then he appeared on TV in the shape of Sean Bean – this was not right. But after a while I got used to him, I saw the character in that form in the later books.

Sean Bean. Put him in a saxon tunic, change the sword and he’s Uhtred

Now, exciting as Mr Cornwell’s books are, the same characters turn up with different names. In the Grail Quest series, Thomas of Hookton is Sharpe with a bow. When Uhtred appeared in The Last Kingdon, the first of The Warrior Chronicles, he was Sharpe with a sword – and looked like Sean Bean! When I first heard that the book was to be made into a TV series I have been looking forward to it. I realise that Uhtred would be played by a different actor – Sean Bean is too old now (at least for the young Uhtred) and has become known as a character in another, slightly similar, series.

When Alexander Dreymon appeared, he was all wrong. Too dark, too pretty and as for that silly goatee beard and moustache, words fail me.

Alexander Dreymon. Stand well back Brida or he#ll have your eye out

Alexander Dreymon. Stand well back Brida or he’ll have your eye out.

One of the most distinctive characters in the books was Father Beocca – very ugly, with red hair, a squint, palsied hand and a club foot. Couldn’t they have given Ian Hart a limp in the TV version? I will probably get used to him, but he’s not “my” Father Beocca”.

That brings me on to the costumes. What on earth are they wearing? What is that strange tunic with the toggles on the shoulder. Once I spotted it on Beocca, it was everywhere. King Alfred’s dressing gown (well it looks like a dressing gown!) Oda, senior & junior, even Uhtred’s father. All slightly different. There are a couple of monks that appeared in several scenes – I am waiting for them to be joined by Rasputin. Are the costumes based on Russian jackets? Chinese? All I know is that they are not Saxon. Do the producers think we won’t be able to tell one character for another unless they are all dressed differently? Unfortunately that is probably true.

Typical Anglo-Saxon warrior

Typical Anglo-Saxon warrior

I don’t think I have seen one genuine Saxon tunic and as for winingas (leg windings – described here as “almost ubiquitous on manuscript depictions of men during the Anglo-Saxon period”) not a sign.

Then there is the equipment. I am waiting for the moment when Uhtred turns round suddenly and knocks someone out with that lump of amber on the end.
And the shields. I suppose they decided no-one would be able to tell the Danes from the Anglo-Saxons if they all had the same round shields (Hint – that’s why they painted them with different designs.). The unwieldy rectangular shields, described somewhere as redundant picnic tables, must have been left lying around by the Romans when they left 400 years earlier – together with instructions for the testudo or tortoise formation.

They can’t even get the basic facts right. In the fourth instalment, Uhtred is given some land. Wife and debt come attached – I’m OK with that. But that now makes him a Thegn, not an Ealdorman.

I could go on, but I’ll leave it there. After all the whole point of a book, or a film, is the story. The original books were (are) exciting and entertaining. The TV series has, thank goodness, stuck fairly close to them. By the end of the series I will probably come around and enjoy watching it.

After all I watched The Tudors for the pleasure of shouting at the screen
“He didn’t look like that.”
“She wouldn’t have done that.”
or “that didn’t happen there, and where did that wisteria come from?” or was that Wolf Hall?